Political Discourse in the Age of Narcissism
When indignation, blame, and contempt substitute for rational argument
Posted August 31, 2015
As a result of my most recent post here on Psychology Today, MSNBC invited me to appear on The Last Word along with Jeffrey Kluger, editor-at-large for Time magazine and author of The Narcissist Next Door. Host Lawrence O’Donnell asked us both to help viewers understand what drives Donald Trump and why we describe him as a narcissist. If you’re interested, you can view the segment here.
Since that segment aired, many of the comments left by viewers on the MSNBC website seem to have borne out my theory about Trump’s appeal. While some viewers have been complimentary, others went on the attack. Dealing with “haters” is a fact of life when you opine in the public sphere, of course, but these comments seemed to embody the defensive responses to narcissistic injury I had earlier described -- indignation, blame, and contempt -- as if audience members who supported Trump felt personally attacked and therefore compelled to retaliate.
Here ‘s one viewer’s comment:
“These guys think they are smarter than Trump. HAHA! They just make themselves stupid and don’t seem to understand plain English. How their twisted minds work I can’t fathom but they delusional. And these psychologists!!!! Anyone who has ever had contact with many psychologists know these are some of the most screwed up people around. Most were total losers and socially awkward when younger and looked at studying psychology would help them cope because they are otherwise so insecure and clueless. Not difficult to get a couple of milktoasts on air to disparage anybody you want…”
The ad hominem attack is nothing new, but this one drips with contempt. The commenter seems to have heard my discussion of Trump’s personality as a put-down: he’s a loser not a winner! Just as the Extreme Narcissist will go on the attack when he feels his winner status to be under siege, this viewer comes to the defense of his candidate and re-asserts his/their superiority. Indignant and personally offended, he transforms Jeff Kluger and me into stupid, delusional, socially awkward, insecure, and clueless milquetoasts.
Another viewer tracked down my email address and sent me this hostile diatribe:
“Hey loser, strong men are strong men are not NPDs and the thought that someone that you think is ill is going to take over the country must give you the shivers.
Ronald Reagan was NPD, so was Eisenhower and many others. Leaders, men with balls are NPD. Pussies like you that are nothing more than domesticated males are not men.
Your theory is falling apart as Americans run to a leader.
You are a fool, a loser a pussy!”
While he at first seems to reject my point of views on Trump’s narcissism, he then insists that men who display the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder are actually true and great leaders, the winners of this world, while I in comparison …
Others before me have pointed out that we live in an age of narcissism, but this bitter and narcissistic division of the world into two categories of people, superior winners and contemptible losers, strikes me as more pernicious than the widespread vanity on display. Within the narcissistic worldview where loser-dom is always a threat, the drive to prove oneself a winner makes reasoned thought virtually impossible. Confusion, doubt, and complexity undermine the absolute conviction necessary to sustain a superior self-image and the bravado needed to face a scary and confusing world.
As detailed in my forthcoming book, the Extreme Narcissistic -- as well as the frightened voter, uncertain of his place in the world -- staves off truth and wards off doubts about his ultimate worth through the use of indignation, blame, and contempt. With disturbing frequency, this is what now passes for political discourse in the age of narcissism.